Each state handles property division during a divorce differently. California is a community property state, which means that generally, all property that both spouses acquired during the marriage is community or “marital” property.
Let’s say that a couple has been married for 10 years, and for 9 of those years, the husband worked while the wife stayed at home to raise their three children. Even though the wife didn’t work during those 9 years, the state still recognizes all of her contributions as a stay-at-home mom.
This means that despite the fact that the wife didn’t have a job for 9 years, she would still be entitled to half of the community property that her husband acquired during the marriage.
Often, a married couple has more community property than they realize. It can include stock options, retirement accounts and interest in a business owned by one of the spouses. Under California law, each spouse is entitled to half of the community property.
This is true even if all of the property is only if all bank accounts, retirement accounts and real estate is only in one spouse’s name, and if only one spouse worked during the marriage.
Separate property is not subject to division and continues to belong to each spouse. Separate property includes property that was acquired before the marriage, property received after the couple’s separation and inheritances.
What about debt?
Generally, debt is treated the same as community property. Meaning, the debt acquired during the marriage is community debt, or otherwise belongs to both spouses, with a few exceptions. For example, one exception is student loans, which are considered separate debt.
On the other hand, credit card debt is community debt, even if the credit cards were only in one spouse’s name, and not joint.
Dividing Community Property & Debts
A couple’s community property and debt are to be divided 50/50 unless the spouses agree on a less than equal division, which happens, especially when there is a significant difference in income and assets.
Please be aware that if your spouse agrees to take on a community debt and he or she fails to pay it or they file for bankruptcy, you may be forced to pay that creditor.